Thursday, August 3, 2017

Big America - The Growing Health Care Crisis

Updated February 2019

With healthcare regularly commanding the headlines in the American mainstream and non-mainstream media, there is one related topic that gets almost no attention - health, particularly health as it relates to body weight.  An analysis by the OECD looks at one key measure of health, that of obesity.  Here is a summary of their findings.

The study looked at the obesity rate in the 35 nations that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and then compared the most recent obesity rates to those of the past.  The study found that, across the OECD, more than one in two adults and one in six children are either obese or overweight and that the "obesity epidemic" has spread further in the past five years with projections showing that all nations will experience a continuing increase in obesity.  That said, obesity rates for all 35 nations vary widely with a tenfold variation in obesity across the nations.

With that introduction, let us now look at obesity rates.  In 2015, on average across the OECD, 19.5 percent of adults were obese with the obesity rate varying from less than 6 percent in Korea and Japan to more than 30 percent in Hungary, New Zealand, Mexico and the United States.  Here is a graphic showing the obesity rates for all 35 OECD nations as well as the rates for some of the world's less-developed economies (i.e. the BRIC nations):

By a relatively wide margin, at 38.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States is considered obese followed by 32.4 percent in Mexico and 30.7 percent in New Zealand.  The least obese nations include Japan with 3.7 percent of its population considered obese followed by Korea at 5.3 percent and Italy at 9.8 percent.  In general, among OECD member nations, the obesity rate for women is slightly higher than the rate for men; this is particularly the case in Latvia, Turkey, Chile, Mexico and the United States.  If we look outside the OECD, in the case of South Africa, 37 percent of women are obese compared to only 16 percent of men.  That said, in general, male obesity has been growing more rapidly as the years have passed.

As was noted at the beginning of this posting, for many nations, the rate of obesity and the percentage of overweight persons has increased over the past few decades as shown on this graphic:

As you can see, the rate of overweight persons in the United States has risen from 43 percent in the late 1970s to 68 percent in 2013, a 58 percent increase.  Obviously, this should be of concern to policymakers since it is this trend that is has led to higher and higher health care cost burdens for American households. 

The future trend is not encouraging either.  Here is a graphic showing the percentage of self-reported overweight children aged 15, comparing the rate in 2001 - 2002 to that of 2013 - 2014 for each OECD nation:

As you can see, for every nation that has data for both years, the percentage of overweight children has increased over the decade with one exception; Denmark.

With all of this data in mind, let's look at the OECD's projections for the future rates of obesity going out to 2030:

Given the growing percentage of overweight children, it certainly appears that the global trend is not favouring a decrease in obesity rates.

Another interesting factor in the obesity equation is the relationship between educational level and obesity.  Less educated women are two to three times more likely to be overweight than those with a higher level of education in half of the eight nations for which that data is available.  In most nations, the rate of obesity has also been rising more rapidly in less-educated men and average-educated women with one exception; in the United States, obesity rates have been increasing most rapidly among highly educated people.

While Washington focuses on the partisan options for health care delivery, they are ignoring one of the most important factors in personal health; the maintenance of a healthy body weight.  Until politicians address this growing crisis, the health care situation in the United States is likely to reach the critical stage where the system simply cannot handle the growing numbers of people with weight-related illnesses. 

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